Recently a friend and colleague of mine, Gregg, tried to sell me on an idea he’s been mulling over for quite some time. No, the idea doesn’t involve wife-swapping or eating our children; but rather, it’s a solution to the designated hitter debate. As it currently stands, each league plays to its own set of rules. Perhaps there is room for compromise though.
Both leagues would have a designated hitter. However, the designated hitter would only hit for the starting pitcher. Once the starting pitcher was removed from the game, the designated hitter would no longer be available. The designated hitter spot would then be filled by whoever is on the mound (obviously forcing the manager to consider using a pinch hitter every time the DH is due). This would obviously force the manager into contemplating the double switch. Perhaps an additional roster spot could even added for further bench depth.
Here’s a practical example of how a scenario in this plan could play out:
A.J. Burnett is on the mound (this already sounds promising, eh?); the game is entering the top of the fifth, and up until this point Burnett’s surrendered a few runs but the team is still very much alive. Let’s pretend the score is tied up at three. As to be expected, Burnett’s pitch count is just about to surpass the century mark and the team is preparing itself for the obligatory meltdown. Jesus Montero (who was slotted into the roster as the DH) is expected to bat second in the bottom of the fifth.
Do the Yankees allow Burnett a little more leeway on the mound so that the heart of the order can have their at-bats in the bottom of the fifth? Or, does Girardi cut his losses, yank Burnett preemptively, and substitute Andruw Jones (or whichever bench player you prefer) into the game to bat in the fifth which will subsequently result in using a pinch hitter in that slot for the remainder of the game?
- Standardizes league rules.
- Allows for the DH to still have a role (which would obviously be required by the players’ union). It might even create more jobs if teams were looking for an extra bat to add to their rosters.
- It makes the NL lineups deeper which could result in more exciting outcomes.
- Would encourage even more strategic decision making.
- Pitchers would not be hitting which would limit the “easy outs” and injuries.
- The DH value is minimized due to less at bats and a codependency on the pitcher. Just think, in 605 plate appearances in 2011, David Ortiz earned a 4.2 fWAR by posting a .309/.398/.554 triple slash (.405 wOBA — seventh best in the league). Imagine how frustrated Sox fans would be if he were limited to 350-400 plate appearances.
- Could encourage less lineup optimization (although admittedly, the net effect of this over the course of the season is minimal).
- Reduces some of the strategy currently deployed by NL pitchers (pitching around certain hitters intentionally to try and get to the opposing pitcher for the “assumed out”).
- Somewhat aggravates the purists who believe a pitcher is a player and should hit.
- Somewhat aggravates the reformists (is that what we want to call them?) who want to see strictly see a DH as the role is currently defined.
Personally, I’m still not sold on the idea as I tend to enjoy American League rules. That said, it’s still a creative compromise that’s worth considering. What’s your take?